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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court tells California it cannot ban indoor religious services because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it can uphold the ban on singing and singing for now. interior.
The high court issued orders Friday night in two cases where churches had sued over coronavirus-related restrictions in the state. The high court said that at this time California cannot ban indoor worship as it has done in most of the state because virus cases are high. The judges said the state can cap indoor services at 25% of a building’s capacity. The judges also refused to stop California from enforcing a ban put in place last summer on singing and indoor singing. California had the restrictions in place because the virus is more easily transmitted indoors and singing releases tiny droplets that can transmit the disease.
Judges responded to emergency requests to end restrictions imposed by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and Harvest Rock Church and Pasadena-based Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches in the whole state.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “federal courts owe significant deference to politically responsible officials” when it comes to public health restrictions, but he said deference “has its limits.”
Roberts wrote that California’s determination “that the maximum number of adherents who may safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero—seems to reflect not expertise or discretion, but rather appreciation or consideration insufficient of the interests at stake”.
In addition to Roberts, Judge Neil Gorsuch and Judge Amy Coney Barrett also wrote to explain their views. Gorsuch and Judge Clarence Thomas reportedly blocked California from enforcing its singing ban. Barrett, the court’s newest judge, disagreed. Writing for herself and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, she said it was unclear at this stage whether the ban on singing was enforced “in all areas”.
She wrote that “if a chorister can sing in a Hollywood studio but not in her church, California regulations cannot be considered neutral”, triggering stricter scrutiny by the courts. The judges said churches that sued can submit new evidence to a lower court that the ban on singing is not being enforced broadly.
The court’s three liberal justices dissented, saying they would have upheld California’s restrictions. Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent for herself, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor that the court action “risks worsening the pandemic.” She said the court “makes a special exception for worship services” rather than treating them like other activities where large groups of people gather “in close proximity for long periods of time”. In areas of California where COVID-19 is prevalent, which includes most of the state, activities such as indoor dining and going to the movies are prohibited.
“I fervently hope that the Court’s intervention will not aggravate the Nation’s COVID crisis. But if this decision causes suffering, we will not pay. Our marble halls are now closed to the public, and our mandate for life forever insulates us from responsibility for our mistakes. That would seem like a good reason to avoid disrupting a state’s response to the pandemic. But the Court forges ahead regardless, insisting that policy based on science yields to the judicial edict,” she wrote.
Charles LiMandri, solicitor for South Bay United Pentecostal Church, said in a statement that he and his clients were “encouraged by this order” and “thank the High Court for upholding religious freedom”.
The court action follows a ruling in a New York case late last year in which judges split 5-4 to prevent the state from imposing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues. Shortly after, the judges asked a federal court to reconsider California’s restrictions in light of the ruling.